Why Sun Did a Microsoft Outlook Plugin Versus Proxy??
By jhawk on Feb 20, 2006
Many of our Java Enterprise System (JES) customers have been asking for an easier method to deploy Email, Calendar, and Address Book services? Usually these poor administrators are stuck because end-users love Microsoft Outlook.
So, why doesn't Sun make a Exchange "like" Proxy? The answer now is no way. The reason for this answer might surprise you.
Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Web Access (OWA) are Microsoft's flagship MAPI clients. Messages that originate from MAPI clients are encoded into binary large objects (BLOB) and then shipped over using the Transport-Neutral Encapsulation Format (TNEF).
#1 Microsoft Maintains a Proprietary RPC-based Protocol (TNEF) between Outlook and their Exchange Servers. They do not publish and support developers (to our knowledge) using this protocol. Sun tries extremely hard to focus on Open Internet Standards such as SMTP, IMAP and POP protocols.
#2 Should Sun "reverse engineer" this RPC-based Protocol, we cannot give any guarantees that Microsoft will not suddenly change their RPC Protocol from under our customer's feet. This is how Microsoft locks you into their world!! Like a gun to your head.
#3 Even Microsoft's best Exchange Consultants admit that the Microsoft RPC protocol contains too much network overhead. So why would you even want to use it?
#4 Sun's Communications Software Suite out performs Exchange Server in many fronts. We typically have 100's of Millions mailboxes in use by Telecommunications and Service Provider customers. They know the cost of ownership on our platform outshines anything else on the market. Why would you staff so many Exchange administrators when you only need 1 or 2 Sun Mail Admins?
Many customer claim that TNIF's encoding of BLOB message data is more secure than SMTP. This is actually false. Even Microsoft's own Exchange 2000 Server Frequently Asked Questions that by using TLS (SSL) encryption client-to-server and server-to-server, it is good or better than encrypted RPC of Exchange.
The only reason that we work with the Outlook Connector is that this collaboration software has an extremely wide install base in the Enterprise. Recently, we are seeing more and more companies start to move away from the Microsoft Office focus to start to support alternatives such as Mozilla's Thunderbird.
Sun celebrates moves to Open Standards, yet Microsoft still retains the concept of "innovate into locking you in." Given these reasons, Sun has provided the Outlook Connector Plugin to customers as a way to still maintain most of the Outlook Client Application's functionality, but still protect our customers from the dangers of using Microsoft's proprietary protocols. A TNEF Proxy would be a very bad thing indeed.
Special Thanks to Arnaud Quillaud for raising these points.
Escaping Vendor Lock-in: Life After Microsoft Exchange
Technical Note Published in Java Enterprise System 2005Q4 Deployment Examples and Technical Notes Collection
Exchange Server RFC and standards compliance (or lack of) published on Microsoft.com